West Side Story
marked a small revolution in the history of the Hollywood musical when it was released in 1961. Enriched by Leonard Bernstein's marvellously brassy, challenging score
--as redolent of the place as anything Gershwin ever wrote--the location shooting and aerial views of the Manhattan grid made New York a gritty backdrop to this modern interpretation of Romeo and Juliet
The film rightly became an instant classic which won ten Oscars and brought some of the greatest numbers in the era of the modern musical to a global audience. Everything gels, from Jerome Robbins' superlative choreography (he retains a director's credit with Robert Wise, although anxious studio bosses removed him from the film when costs started to mount), to Ernest Lehman's taught screenplay, some of Sondheim's most accessible early lyrics, and passionate, raw performances from the gang members and the lovers.
For many of the cast, including Richard Beymer as Tony and Natalie Wood as Maria, the film represents a creative climax which wouldn't be surpassed during the remainder of their distinguished careers. Rita Moreno is an outstanding Anita, even with her songs disappointingly dubbed, and George Chakiris' sinewy, arrogant Bernardo is magnetic. The whole thing still thrums with a youthful, dramatic energy that even a modern equivalent like Moulin Rouge can't match.
On the DVD: West Side Story thoroughly merits the attention to detail in this handsome Collector's Edition. The anamorphic (16:9) widescreen format reproduces the original cinema presentation, brilliantly serving the city panoramas and balletic fight scenes, as well as the softness of the love duets, while a newly processed Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track brings Bernstein's score up as if the notes were still drying on the page. Extras abound. A "Remembering" documentary features significant contributions from director Robert Wise, Richard Beymer, Russ Tamblyn and Rita Moreno. Die-hard fans will lap up the various galleries, comparisons, the original intermission music and even a complete copy of Ernest Lehman's screenplay. --Piers Ford